Thoughts on privilege
More specifically, my privilege. This post got me thinking. Instead of possibly derailing it, I am making my own to try and sort out my conflicted feelings.
As a white person, I have been extended a ton of privilege. While crazy and not necessarily stable, I was able to focus in school, get good grades, and a decent education in smaller honours and AP classrooms. Growing up, my parents were in the middle class, though with a family of 8 plus grand children they still struggled from paycheck to paycheck more often than not.
I have been privileged to have never been forced to live in the streets. When the house we were renting was foreclosed on from behind our backs we were able to live in my sister’s 2 bedroom house for a few months while my parents made a deal with a new employer, so we were never without a roof. (Note: 9 people, 2 dogs, and a cat in a very tiny 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom house is not a very fun experience.) Foodstamps and government aid allowed us to eat better than when my parents were able to bring home a paycheck, so food— while still tight— was not so much an issue.
Currently both my parents are unemployed and have been for over a year and a half (if not longer). My mother is on unemployment and my grandparents gave us their house so we had a place to stay, which we are extremely fortunate and privileged for, as the question of paying rent is no longer a cloud hanging over our head. Money is still very tight, especially with my mother’s habits of regularly buying beer, cigarettes, and gas to get to the store. Our food stamps were cut back so we get less per month so store visits are frugal.
Because I have a place to go to, I am wary of applying the term “poor” to myself. I have not had to camp in the woods or a car or panhandle like my father. Most of the year a loan allows me to attend school where I can eat, sleep, and feel relatively safe. I do, however, have experience with what living in poverty is like.
My conflicting feelings mainly arise due to diet: I have been a vegetarian since I was 14 and mostly vegan since I was 17.
I know how it feels to literally go weeks with limited or no food because of lack of money. When I am not in self-imposed starvation mode and am willing to eat, I worry and stay anxious about how I am going to afford food I can eat. For about a month last summer I ate little more than a bowl of rice a day or the crackers a friend offered me. To assume poor— even broke— people cannot have diet restrictions and feel strongly about such issues is presumptuous. I feel as though my experiences with poverty are invalidated when I read statements such as “being a vegetarian is a privilege.” Having money to afford faux meats, cheeses, and the like is a privilege, not veganism itself. The education to be a successful one might be, fortunately google and public libraries full of free resources.
When I have money I can afford several weeks worth of groceries for less than $30. Brown rice, beans, and pasta are relatively cheap, as is some produce. If stored correctly, all things mentioned above last a while. Veggies and fruits cost a bit more but they can be frozen and last longer. Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and the like are fairly cheap and last a while and provide great sources of nutrition. By combining whole grains and legumes I get complete proteins; with the veggies I get more vitamins and minerals.
Fact of the matter is, store bought meat is a privilege. Many cultures have successfully lived off veg*n or pescetarian diets for centuries at low cost. In fact, some of the best vegetarian cuisines come from Indian, Native, and Eastern traditions. They are cheap, relatively easy to make, healthy, and can be made in the time you spend on the computer or watching TV. Hell, even Western society had limited meat intake before the refrigerator was invented because it was costly to have meat if it could not be stored properly.
So to say that being a veg*n is a privilege is to deny the fact that many people of poverty choose to lessen cruelty (of human and nonhuman lives) in their diets despite not necessarily knowing when the next meal is. Being a veg*n is no more so a privilege than buying hamburger meat at a store or $10 worth of food at a fast food joint.
Ultimately, I am failing to see how my diet is a result of extreme privilege, short of being in a homeless shelter or on the streets with limited options. It is a way of life I am sticking to and will continue to stick to until my death, even if that be through unasked for starvation. As a result the earth, animals, and people involved in meat-harvesting process will be better for it.
So, yes, I would like a vegan gluten-free cookie because they are fucking expensive and a treat.